After Disney Tangled made its theatrical debut back in November of 2010, Roy Conli thought that there was no way to top the experience that this veteran producer had just had on that Walt Disney Animation Studios production.
“I honestly thought that Tangled was going to be my Disney legacy. I mean, we faced so many technical challenges on that movie. Scenes where we had 45,000 lanterns floating in the air to Rapunzel’s 70 feet of hair. Not to mention that we reinvented WDAS’ entire CG production pipeline while we were working on this movie. Which meant that we weren’t getting any images on Tangled that we could really use in the finished film ’til March of 2010. Which was less than eight months before this movie was supposed to be released to theaters,” Roy recalled during a recent phone interview.
But in the end, all those risks that Conli and the Tangled production team took ultimately paid off. This Academy Award-nominated animated feature — thanks to its strong female protagonist as well as its ambitious storyline (which had some genuine emotional heft) — represented a big step forward for Walt Disney Animation Studios.
“I remember telling the Tangled crew about grimace moments. How when you watch a movie that you worked on and you think ‘Ah, I wish we could have done that scene better,’ or ‘I wish that we’d had the time or the money to fix that particular story problem.’ But when I watched Tangled, I had no grimace moments. I could watch that film over and over and over again. I just love that I got to help Nathan Greno and Bryon Howard reinvent the way Disney does fairytales,” Roy enthused.
Now please note Conli’s turn of phrase in the above sentence (i.e., “Got to help”). Given that Roy views feature animation as a director-driven medium, he thinks that a producer’s main responsibility is to help the director achieve their specific vision for that project.
“That’s why — when Don Hall first came to me to talk about Big Hero 6 — I have to admit that I found his pitch for this project extremely compelling. The very idea that a boy could first lose his brother and then be repaired by his brother’s invention, this robot, that sounded like a story that was really worth telling,” Conli admitted.
More to the point, given the maturity of storytelling that WDAS had demonstrated with its recent work on Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, Roy felt that the studio was now up to the challenges of Big Hero 6. Which — while it was set in a Marvel-inspired universe — was still basically a story about grief and loss.
Speaking of Marvel: Given that a tale involved superheroes needs a super-sized setting, Big Hero 6 production designer Paul Felix really pulled out the stops as he was designing San Fransokyo.
“For this film, it was absolutely essential that we have a setting that felt contemporary and lived in. San Fransokyo had to be a city that you recognized but — at the same time — still be a suitable…